Mindfulness

Global Trend: Mindfulness in Schools

Is the U.S. falling behind?

Posted Feb 28, 2019

Earlier this month, England announced they will begin teaching mindfulness in up to 370 schools nationwide. Damian Hinds, the British secretary of education, said: “Children will start to be introduced gradually to issues around mental health, well-being, and happiness right from the start of primary school.” This is intended to combat the rise in anxiety, depression and other mental-emotional challenges in British youth per a recent National Health Survey. While not too far away, the government in New Delhi, India launched a “Happiness Curriculum” last July, which starts with mindfulness exercises every morning in the classroom. Are we in the average American classroom missing the mindfulness boat?

Mindfulness Defined

Mindfulness is a fancy word for paying attention without judgment to what’s happening either inside of you (for example, your thoughts and bodily sensations) or in the outer world. Research shows that students who practice mindfulness exercises often improve their attention, grades, behavior, mood and ability to self-regulate. Said differently, mindfulness can help our students slow down and ultimately make smart choices even when emotionally triggered.

Countries such as England and India that systematically teach mindfulness are setting up their students to become emotionally intelligent—not just simply book smart. They’re working from the inside out.

Over here in the United States, there is more debate about the validity of mindfulness and its role in the classroom, which research shows is constructive. Some adults believe mindfulness aims to convert students to a certain religion and this is incorrect. Although mindfulness did originate in the East as part of eastern wisdom traditions like Buddhism—today’s mindfulness isn’t religious or spiritual in nature, but simply aimed at helping children better regulate their brains, bodies and ultimately, behavior.

Mindfulness in America

In 2015, Amanda Moreno from Erickson Institute was allotted $3 million mostly from the US Department of Education to teach mindfulness and see its impact in over 30 low-income, public schools in Chicago. It is a multi-year initiative, which isn’t completed yet but is expected to produce a thorough report as to the impact of mindfulness on student mood, well-being and academic performance, especially in urban, low-income public schools. More than 2,000 students will be reached in this study. (Calm Classroom from Luster Learning Institute is used in this initiative).

There is also no lack of mindfulness programs based in the United States such as “Mind Up” from The Hawn Foundation or “Mindful Schools,” which stated they have trained over 50,000 educators worldwide regarding mindfulness. Despite the plethora of programs, today’s researchers continue to collect evidence, which will be helpful in making decisions on what role mindfulness can play potentially in mainstream American education.

But to answer my earlier question: No, I don’t think America has missed the mindfulness boat, but we certainly need to do some paddling to keep up.

Sidenote: The difference between mindfulness and social & emotional learning (SEL) programs, especially as they relate to developing a child’s emotional intelligence will be covered in a future blog. If you cannot wait, I also wrote about this in my book: The Emotionally Healthy Child (chapter 5).

References

Magra, Illiana. "Schools in England Introduce a New Subject: Mindfulness." The New York Times on Feb 4, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/04/world/europe/uk-mindfulness-children-school.html

Gray, Alex. "These Indian schools are giving lessons in happiness." World Economic Forum on July 25, 2018.  https://bit.ly/2DI8rfM

Deruy, Emily. "Does Mindfulness Actually Work in Schools." The Atlantic on May 20, 2016. https://bit.ly/2motoTv

Kuzma, Cindy. "Mindfulness Matters for Kids, Too." Chicago Magazine on June 18, 2018. https://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/June-2018/Mindfulness-Matters-for-Kids-Too/

Mindful Schools on the web (research on mindfulness): https://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/research/